Dippers in Lathkill Dale

February 20, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I was lucky enough to have last week off work so I decided to spend it trying to take a few new pictures for the website. I started off on Monday with a visit to the stunning Lathkill Dale, part of the Derbyshire Peak District. My target for the day was to obtain a semi-decent photo of a dipper. Lathkill Dale is well known for this species and they are very used to being photographed so I had high hopes.

I arrived at dawn and spent the next few hours in a blissfully empty dale. The water was extremely high in the river and had flooded the path in places but luckily there was a (muddy) detour available which meant the whole area was still accessible. 

Flooded path through Lathkill Dale

There is a path under all that water...honest!

I walked a good distance along the path and saw a single dipper that, unfortunately, flew off as soon as it saw me and didn't return, despite my patience! After a while I headed back to the start of the path and walked the other way where I found my first snowdrops of the year. For these, my macro lens made its first outing of the week and a couple of the images can be found in my 'Plantlife' gallery.

As I walked further down the path, the peace and quiet was shattered by the sound of a (very close) shotgun being fired. To say it made me jump would be a huge understatement! I soon located the source, in the woodland directly across the river from me, so I decided to head back to the start of the path. As I walked I heard the unmistakable, beautiful sound of a singing dipper. Unfortunately, it was far below me and out of range of my lens.

As I reached the start of the path again, another shot rang out and the (previously singing) dipper flew past me in haste. Following it around the corner, I located it low down on a branch at the edge of the river. Over the next few minutes I watched it fly up and down the river, sit on branches, sing its heart out, feed and generally ignore a decidedly flirty second (and presumably female) bird. I was able to watch all of this from only a few metres away on the river bank and was therefore lucky enough to be able to grab a few photos. Two of my best shots can be seen in my 'Birds - general' gallery. Eventually, it seemed to get fed up of being disturbed by the sound of gunfire and flew off and out of sight.

The bird I photographed was ringed, presumably by Sorby Breck Ringing Group, but the second bird I saw (but didn't get chance to photograph) wasn't. Sorby Breck started a research project ringing and colour-ringing dippers in Lathkill Dale in 2010 so it is likely that a high proportion of the dippers in the Dale are ringed. More details of the project can be found on the Sorby Breck website: http://www.britishringers.co.uk/articles/details.php?id=9

Disturbance considerations - dippers are very susceptible to disturbance during the breeding season (early March to July) so care needs to be taken not to disturb the birds near their nests. Unfortunately, there have been incidences where irresponsible photographers have impacted negatively on breeding dippers in Lathkill Dale. If visiting Lathkill Dale (or anywhere else where birds are breeding) please ensure that you adhere to the wildlife photographer's code: 'The welfare of the subject is more important than your photography’.

Location tip - park in the car park at Over Haddon (relatively pricey pay and display car park) and walk down the steep path to Lathkill Dale (blue badge holders can park at the bottom of the hill). When you reach the river, turn right by the houses (don't go over the bridge) and follow the path. My shots were taken just a few metres up this path. The more elusive bird was seen a good mile or two further along the path by a waterfall.


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